"Let us redouble our efforts towards attaining our most coveted objective, to regain our usurped freedom and immorally annexed homeland," Murad Ebrahim, chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), said in a message at the start of Ramadan.
Peace talks aimed at ending decades of Muslim rebellion in Mindanao have been suspended since September 2006 after the Philippine government and the MILF failed to agree on the scope of a proposed Muslim homeland.
Last month, the government's new chief negotiator postponed a scheduled resumption of the talks to allow him more time to fine-tune his panel's position.
Philippine authorities said the negotiations would likely resume after Ramadan out of respect for the Muslim fasting month.
But Ebrahim said the rebel group's leadership is ready to work for peace even during Ramadan.
"There are no teachings in Islam that state one should defer work just to break fast," he said. "Islam does not advocate a special working mode for Ramadan. Slashing working hours would affect productivity and could promote a culture of slacking on the job."
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said she was optimistic that the government and the MILF were close to forging a peace agreement despite the key contentious issue of ancestral domain, which would affect the scope of the proposed Muslim homeland.
"We are close to a peace agreement with the MILF," she said in a statement Wednesday. "I remain optimistic we can overcome the final barriers on ancestral domain so that we can bring finality to the peace."
"We have achieved a great deal," she added. "The (Mindanao) region is vastly improved in terms of safety, security and economic growth. It will really take off if we achieve lasting peace and the millions of foreign aid promised comes pouring in."
In July, fighting broke out between the MILF and the military, resulting in the killing of 14 marines - 10 of whom were beheaded or mutilated - in Basilan province. The hostilities threatened to escalate when the military vowed to avenge the gruesome deaths.
But an international monitoring team headed by Malaysia intervened, and the government ordered the military to pull back.
The 12,000-strong MILF has been fighting for the establishment of an independent Islamic state in Mindanao since 1978. It agreed to hold peace talks with the government and discuss self-rule in hopes of spurring development in the impoverished region.
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